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Santa Maria Sun on a “Rising Star”

Santa Maria Sun on a “Rising Star”

Rising Star

The national spotlight is shining on a talented, young Santa Maria winemaker. Forbes magazine has selected 25-year-old Gavin Chanin for its first-ever “Top 30 Under 30” issue highlighting movers and shakers younger than 30.

The group was described by the publication as tomorrow’s brightest stars. Chanin joins the likes of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and performers Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber. He’s the only winemaker chosen by industry experts in the field of food and wine. The issue appears on newsstands Jan. 16.

“It caught me by surprise how much my phone was ringing afterwards,” Chanin said. “I didn’t realize Forbes had such a massive reach until they put the announcement out and I got 150 e-mails the first couple of hours—people saying congratulations and stuff.”

Chanin Wine Company created quite a buzz over the last year, becoming a darling in the wine press. His 2008 Chanin Pinot Noir was named to Wine and Spirits Magazine’s Top 100 Wines of 2011, and his wines were praised in Decanter Magazine, The Wine Advocate, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Chanin, a Buellton resident, makes his wine on his own time, at the Au Bon Climat/Qupé wine production facility east of Santa Maria, where he works as assistant winemaker. He’s been working for mentors Jim Clendenen and Bob Lindquist since he was 18 years old.

Chanin grew up in Los Angeles. After high school, he wanted to get out of the city.

“This opportunity came up to be a guest harvest worker [at ABC/Qupé], and I came up and they couldn’t get rid of me after that,” he said. “It’s kind of like a family. I learned how to make wine here; it’s the only place I’ve ever worked.”

While studying art at UCLA, his passion for enology flourished. Only 25 years old, he’s already worked 11 grape harvests around the world.

“I took the whole ’07 year off and made wine abroad in South Africa and New Zealand and traveled in Europe and came back and started my company and went back to school, and finished my degree in art,” Chanin said.

The award-winning art student graduated Phi Beta Kappa.

An artist in every sense of the word, his abstract landscape paintings adorn the labels on the wines he handcrafted.

He produces 1,000 cases of Chanin Wine each year, sourcing his fruit from Bien Nacido Vineyard and Los Alamos Vineyard—two of the oldest vineyards in Santa Barbara County, planted in the early ’70s.

“I try to find old vines. I like making wines that are lower in alcohol,” Chanin said, “so I found that old vines really help you get mature fruit at low sugars.”

Chanin strives for balance, finesse, length, and complexity: “Balance over fruit. Complexity over hyper-alcoholic concentration.”

His employer, Qupé winemaker Bob Lindquist, has known Chanin his entire life, having worked with his father, Tony Chanin, at Zaca Mesa Winery in Los Olivos in 1980.

“He’s a great kid. … Gavin grew up around wine and wines of balance. That carries over to his wines,” Lindquist said. “His wines are really good, restrained, and classically styled.”

So how did this young talent capture so much attention on such a large scale so fast? By pounding the pavement and dazzling the sommeliers at upscale San Francisco and Los Angeles restaurants, getting his food-friendly Chanin Pinot Noir and Chardonnay onto their impressive wine lists.

“I didn’t think the wines, because of their style, would get a lot of critical acclaim, so I went and called on the best restaurants I could—Craft, Spago, Gary Danko, Michael Mina—and I think because it was in all these high-profile restaurants, people really started to notice it. I really think that’s why the press caught on from there,” Chanin said.

Perseverance and taking the path less traveled are paying off.

“It’s a weird shift, because I started out really small, delivering the wine myself, telling people about the wine, and now I meet people who’ve already heard about the wine, so that’s very weird, but it’s a good thing,” Chanin said. “I’m really excited because 2010 and 2011 for me personally were great vintages. I feel like I have some really awesome wines in the pipeline. It’s cool to be sold out of what I have, and then to be moving on to some wines I’m really excited about.”

To find his wine and learn more, go to

Sun wine and food writer Wendy Thies Sell plans to savor and save during California Restaurant Month. You can contact her at